After three years in France, Ben Mowen thought any potential return to Australian rugby would only come at David Wilson Field in Brisbane.
Mowen, speaking from Bordeaux, has found himself back in the national fold, though, set to play in the Wallaby XV against the French Barbarians on Friday morning (AEDT).
Joined by Peter Kimlin and Mark Gerrard as overseas-based Wallabies involved in the match, Mowen said he was loving every moment.
“I thought the next time that I'd be involved in an Australian team would be when I return home to Brisbane and play for Easts Tigers back there I thought that would be the next time I got that involvement so for this to come along, speaking to Mark Gerrard and Pete Kimlin as well, it's not only a big surprise but it's an amazing privilege.
“We just finished our first team session then and I said to Pete as we were walking off, 'this is like a gift isn't it?'. - Ben Mowen
“We were just smiling ear to ear so it's been amazing to be back involved.
"You have your moments where you wish you were back in there but I know how big a sacrifice those guys go through to be involved in that team, just to get to that point on Saturday, it's a huge sacrifice and I know how much hard work goes into it so that balances out how comfortable I am with the family."
The 32-year-old has been watching Australia’s progress keenly despite being overseas and said Thursday would be a rare chance to play alongside some of those who he has watched grow from afar.
“I think when I left Australian rugby Will Skelton was obviously very new on the scene and I think the way that he's matured as a real natural leader and you can see his presence in the team is really important,” he said.
“To get to know a guy like that on a personal level's been really good and then young Izzy [Queensland's Izaia Perese] seeing him on the field today, he's obviously only 19 years old but he's a really huge talent to Australia and I'll get to tell people that I got to train with him and perhaps have a game with him and then go on and watch his career flourish.”
Mowen said he felt that bringing past Wallabies into a concept like the Wallaby XV was significant on both sides of the coin.
“To me, it feels like a Wallaby family when you’re asked to do those things because it is such a short moment in your life where you're involved in the team and it always has such a special spot in your heart,” - Ben Mowen
“It's nice to be tapped on the shoulder to say mate, you're part of this, you're still a Wallaby even though you're not playing with the team,'
“I think that gives you a really special feeling about how special that is to be involved with the Australian team.”
The concept has also been a way to reintroduce some overseas-based coaches into the system, with former Wallabies assistant and current Montpellier assistant coach Scott Wisemantel, who said the initiative was all about ‘opportunity’.
“The one thing that I can tell you that everone has spoken about - staff, players- it's about opportunity,” he said.
“For everyone - everyone's got different motivations so for instance players like Ben Mowen and Peter Kimlin and Mark Gerrard it's an opportunity to wear a Wallaby on your heart for potentially the last time.
“For a young player like Andrew Kellaway, it’s an opportunity to wear it for the first time at a senior level.
“From a coaching point of view, it's an absolute privilege and opportunity to coach at an international level with your home nation.”
While he's excited to be back coaching a national team, Wisemantel said returning home wasn't at the forefront of his mind.
“When I was asked [to coach the Wallaby XV], it was a no-brainer. It’s an opportunity and it gives you a chance to potentially prove yourself that you can come back home.
“But that's up to the unions at home if there's any job opportunities. Just because you're coaching doesn't mean that all of a sudden you're coming home.”
Scott Fardy, Luke Morahan and Kyle Godwin are set to join the Wallaby XV squad, flying over from Dublin on Tuesday, along with Grenoble's Henry Vanderglas, a former Brumbies player.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said the match would give Godwin and Morahan, particularly, a chance to take centre stage after impressing in last weekend's Paris Test.
"A little bit more seniority within the team," he said.
"They've only played one Test, but it has a bit of an air of that.
"They're exactly the reasons we want to do that. I know they had a session down there on day one where the guys who have been on tour took the guys who are French-based through some of our mental prep stuff, the identity piece and things that we value here, and started that process off with them.
"A bit of spreading the word and a bit of enjoying some different coaches as well."
The composition of the Wallaby XV will be finalised later on Wednesday France time.
Wallaby XV squad
Sam Carter, ACT Brumbies
Nathan Charles, Clermont
Jack Dempsey, NSW Waratahs
Sef Fa’agase, Queensland Reds
Scott Fardy, ACT Brumbies
Nick Frisby, Queensland Reds
Kyle Godwin, ACT Brumbies
Mark Gerrard, Toyota Industries Shuttles
Andrew Kellaway, NSW Waratahs
Peter Kimlin, Grenoble
Marika Koroibete, Melbourne Rebels
Jono Lance, Western Force
David Lolohea, Western Sydney Rams
Luke Morahan, Western Force
Ben Mowen, Pau
Taqele Naiyaravoro, NSW Waratahs
Andrew Ready, Queensland Reds,
Izaia Perese, Queensland Reds
Tom Robertson, NSW Waratahs
Paddy Ryan, NSW Waratahs
Will Skelton, NSW Waratahs
Nic Stirzaker, Melbourne Rebels
Henry Vanderglas, Grenoble
The Wallaby XV takes on the French Barbarians in Bordeaux on Friday, kicking off at 6:45am AEDT, live streamed on rugby.com.au.